It’s tough to pin down and make any kind of broad-stroke judgments about Epithymia, the second LP by ambient power duo Anjou. I’m using the term “power” duo, of course, lightly – maybe even with a trace of sarcasm – as there’s very little thrust or vim and vigor to the new record, out a couple of weeks ago via Kranky. It’s a low-pulse affair. And this brand of (for lack of a less diminishing term) sonic wallpaper – interesting to gaze at but not very engaging – is especially a letdown when comparing it with the more rhythmic density of the duo’s 2014 self-titled debut.
And it’s not as if Anjou members Mark Nelson and Robert Donne, best known as part of defunct Virginian experimentalists Labradford, are not swinging for the fences herein. There’s a real attention to specificity in the murmurs, sound-oozes and electronic chants they summon; they just don’t provide the kind of subconscious narratives that makes the best ambient music out there so damned inviting and enveloping in the first place. It’s all theory; in other words, little in the way of initiation.
There are some moments worth writing home to Ma about, of course. The closing moments of album-opener “Culicinae,” as well as some passages along the way, have a kind of a somber shimmer to them – but that’s thanks largely to the focused use of percussion, which lends the ribbons of sound a kind of weight that brings them down from the stars to spectator level. “Soucouyant” toys with interesting alien pulses but does so, sadly, ad infinitum, to the point where if you’re not droning along, all is lost. “Glamr” – at 3:27 the LP’s shortest composition amid a collection of long-form experiments – is an interesting piece of doom-ridden sound art, something right out of the desperate moments of Aronofsky’s Pi. But it’s followed by the too-long album-closer “Georgia,” which, despite occasionally grasping for a kind of lightness and airiness, needs better editors than it has found in Nelson and Donne.
But is a bad record? Well, no; it’s not. The sound structure is enticing, even interesting to the right set of ears, and there’s surely an attention to craft. That needs to be said. Again, though, it just don’t move. Too much of the record is consumed with nailing a specific tone, and the grander mission – crafting a composition or record that conveys a mood or a story-line or takes the listener on a journey – is abandoned somewhere in the finer details. That’s letdown. So many on Kranky’s roster are adept at making music that is complex, as well as emotionally immediate, even accessible in some strange sense of the word. I just can’t bring myself to say the same about Anjou’s Epithymia.